Castle Roland

The Translator

by David McLeod


Chapter 11

Published: 9 Mar 15

The Translator

by David McLeod

Swallows and Amazons

Driftwood littered the beach over which Phillip and Argon walked. The tide continued to rise. Tropical jungle on one side and waves on the other restricted the boys to a narrow strip of sand. Phillip reached back to help Argon over the trunk of a long dead, sun-bleached tree. "We won't get much farther today," Phillip said. "It's barely noon, but the tide's still coming in."

"We have to find shelter, too," Argon warned. "Look. Look at the clouds. It's a storm."

Phillip looked at the sky to the east. A bank of clouds loured over the horizon. An occasional flash of lightning played among the clouds.

"Only the worst storms have lightning. This will be a very bad one," Argon said.

Phillip understood that Argon was referring to the electric flashes in the clouds, and spoke this new word over and over until he was sure he'd memorized it. Then he asked, "Why does lightning mean that the storm will be bad?" Phillip had finally learned to take nothing for granted, and to question the rationale behind everything Argon said.

"Grandfather said so," Argon replied. "And it has always been so."

That was not helpful, Phillip thought.

The storm clouds continued to billow higher into the air until their tops were blown sideways by high-altitude winds, like the smoke of the volcano the day they arrived.

"You were right about the storm," Phillip said. He grunted, and helped Argon over yet another tangle of driftwood. "How did you know?"

Argon shrugged. "It's the wind, I think. It's how it feels blowing across my face. It's different when there's going to be a storm. And the birds."

"What birds," Phillip asked. He straddled a log and prepared to help Argon over it.

"That's it," Argon said. "They've taken shelter. They know."

A ridge of rock rose from the water. It climbed and meandered to the west, toward the interior of the island. It had been hidden by the jungle until the boys rounded a promontory.

"We must climb," Argon gasped through the rain that was already pelting them. "The storm will wash the beach. We will not be safe."

Phillip stretched his hand to Argon. "Let's climb, then."

"This should be high enough, don't you think?" Phillip said. "Look, it's a lava tube–a cave. It will protect us from the wind and rain." The opening of the tube faced the sea from which direction the wind was blowing; however, the tube was closed in the back. The gusting wind caused the air pressure in the cave to fluctuate. The boys' ears popped with the changes, but the air in the cave was otherwise still. From their vantage point, Phillip and Argon could see that the rocky ridge continued down into and under the water.

Phillip found driftwood and duff, and made a fire in the back of the cave. Argon spread a blanket beside the fire. The boys took off their boots and clothes, shaking them and applying boy magic to hasten drying.

"Look!" Argon cried. He ran to the mouth of the lava cave and pointed toward the sea. Phillip followed.

Tossing in the grumbling sea, a small boat appeared when it topped a wave and then disappeared when it slid into a trough. The sail was nearly furled, with only enough surface area exposed to the wind to provide some headway for steering. At the top of the mast, a long, swallowtail pennon pointed straight toward the shore. The boat was about to be beaten upon the rocks. Phillip blinked his eyes; they were watering from salt spray. When his eyes cleared, Phillip saw two figures on the boat. One was holding firmly onto a tiller; the other was holding onto the gunwale with one hand while trying to manipulate a rope leading to the sail with the other.

"They're going to crash!" Argon shouted over the blustering wind. "We've got to help them."

"You're too tired," Phillip said.

"But we must," Argon insisted. He jammed his feet into his moccasins, and ran from the cave. Phillip put on his own moccasins and followed. I must protect him!

Phillip caught up with Argon, and the two boys stood on a rock that projected above the worst of the waves. For a moment, they could not see the little boat. Then it appeared. It was leaning sideways and sliding down a huge wave. The wave crested, and the boat heeled over before disappearing in the foam. Phillip prepared to dive into the water, but Argon restrained him. Argon clutched Phillip's arm and shouted, but his words were swept away. He shook his head, no. Phillip nodded.

Argon pointed toward the water in the lee of the rocks. The water was a little calmer. The boys saw two heads bobbing for a moment before they disappeared.

"Now!" Argon shouted, and dove into the water. Phillip heard nothing save the wind, but quickly followed.

The boys were tossed about and salt water stung their eyes. Desperately, Phillip kept Argon in sight, following him. Argon swam strongly. There! An arm projected from the water. Argon kicked his legs in a burst of energy and grabbed the arm before it disappeared. There! A head popped to the surface, and then a leg before the second occupant of the boat was pulled under the water by an eddy. Phillip dove where the leg disappeared and grabbed something. . . clothing, I think. He pulled and kicked until his head broke the surface. Blinded by the seawater, Phillip operated by touch, turning the body until he got a lifeguard's hold on it.

Which way to shore? And, where's Argon? Phillip thought. A faint cry from Argon answered both questions. Phillip saw the smaller boy struggling toward the shore, pulling the boat's other occupant behind him. Same lifeguard hold went through Phillip's mind. He followed Argon.

They were still in the lee of the rocks. The waves were strong, but rather than dashing the boys onto the rocks, the waves pushed them onto the sand. Phillip and Argon pulled their burdens above the waterline, released them, and then flopped down beside them. Subliminally, Phillip realized that the two boys were Elves.

"Is he breathing?" Phillip yelled to Argon. Argon nodded.

This one isn't, Phillip thought. He turned the boy onto his back, stuck his fingers in the boy's mouth, then tilted his head back and began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Four breaths, and then Phillip checked for a pulse. It was weak. More breaths, and the boy coughed, spewing seawater and bile in Phillip's face. Phillip reached for a shirtsleeve to wipe himself, and realized that save for their moccasins, he and Argon were still naked.

With Phillip and Argon's help, the two Elven boys were able to stand. Phillip gestured for Argon to lead the way to the cave. The fire still burned; the cave was warm and bright.

Phillip saw clearly the boy he'd rescued. The boy's eyes were a deep purple. His skin was creamy white, and his hair, although still wet with seawater, was fine and sparkled of gold in the firelight. The boy shook his head to clear his thoughts and Phillip saw a pointed ear peep from under the hair.

The boys and their clothes were dry. Argon had built up the fire. Now, the four boys huddled together, wrapped in blankets, around the fire.

"I am Javari," the older–the one Argon had pulled from the water–said. "This is my younger brother, Maranon." He looked at Phillip. "You breathed life into Maranon. I have heard of this, but never seen it before. It means you are bound. You must have sworn eternal brotherhood in an earlier life. Now, you are together, again."

"I am Phillip," that boy said, "and this is Argon. Um, what I did is called mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. It is something that many people know and do when someone is in danger of drowning."

Javari frowned, but said nothing more on the subject.

Phillip's Journal–Electron Bonds

I believe I understand why it is difficult to strike a spark with flint and steel without using boy magic, and why only the worst storms have lightning. It occurred to me that these things were related. Both the sparks from the flint and the lightning are electrical, and have something to do with electrons being rubbed off atoms. (I do wish I'd paid more attention in that class.) For some reason, it is harder here than on Earth to rub electrons off to make a spark with a flint; magic overcomes that. For the same reason, the wind must be especially strong to rub off electrons to make lightning. This is only a theory, but it does fit all the facts that I know, and explains two different-but-related phenomena. I think that makes it a good theory. I wonder if I'll ever find anyone to talk to about this!

That is, however, not the most important thing. Argon and I rescued two boys from drowning when a storm capsized their sailboat. Their names are Javari (zah var EE) and Maranon (mah rah NYON), and they are brothers, and Elves. Maranon–the little one–was not breathing, and I used mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on him–something I learned in lifeguard class at school. Well, Javari seems to think it has somehow linked us and that we are sworn brothers or something. I explained what I had done, and I believe Javari understood, yet he's adamant. Have I incurred some obligation by saving the boy's life?

He also said something about an earlier life. This is the second time I've heard someone speak of life after death. The first was the two boys who swore brotherhood at Japura's village. The cleric said they swore their oath "for this life and forever more." Some of the people of this world, anyway, believe in life-after-death. Javari believes in reincarnation, too.

I asked Argon in his tongue if we should offer to share boy magic with Javari and Maranon, and he was most insistent that we do so. He reminded me that to Elves, Humans were enemies. He said something that I didn't quite understand. He said, "They will see in our boy magic that we are not enemies." Perhaps there is some rule about not knifing in the back someone you've just had sex with.

"Phillip," Javari said the next morning, "you and Argon have saved our lives. Last night we shared magic when you asked. I felt your Goodness in your magic. I know, even if you don't, that you are bound to Maranon. This is why it is so strange. We know you to be Human, and we know that Humans are our enemies. Yet you are not–you cannot be–enemies. Did you save us only to make us your slaves? Please help me understand."

Javari and Maranon sat by the fire. Their eyes were on Phillip. Phillip glanced at Argon, who said in the secret language of the Lodge, "Say what you will. I have trust and love for you."

"We know of the slave raids by humans from the west," Phillip began. "The headman of a farming village where we stayed for more than a month told us. We know that those humans are not only your enemies, but are evil. First, you must believe that Argon and I are not evil. We have both sworn oaths to serve the Light and that which is good. Second, you must believe that Argon and I are not from the same place as the evil Humans. Our homes are from much farther away. . . so far away that I cannot tell you where they are. You could call us castaways without being wrong. We meant to come here, but this place is only a point on our journey to Argon's home."

Javari nodded. "I believe you. Evil would not have risked itself to save us. I knew that, but I did not know how Humans could be both Evil and Good. I am glad to know."

The storm had left the beach littered with debris but had swept the sky clear of clouds. The temperature was much cooler than normal, and the boys shivered when they left the sea after their morning bath. They ran down the beach, laughing and yelling, skipping and jumping. Javari was in the lead. The others saw him stop suddenly, and then resume running. His gait seemed more purposeful.

Phillip, quickly caught up with Javari, and saw what that boy had seen. It was the Elven boys' boat, lying on its side in the sand.

The boys crowded around the boat. "The mast's broken off," Maranon said. "Even if we find it, it would be too short."

"The boom and the sail are still here," Javari said, his voice filled with excitement. "They caught in the tiller. The sail is torn, but we can repair it; and we can make a mast!"

Phillip's Journal

I talked at length to Argon, and we agreed that we will stay here and help Javari and Maranon repair their sailboat. The boat needs a mast and other repairs before it can sail. They think they can do this, and their confidence and enthusiasm as well as their love for their boat are contagious. Yesterday, we scouted the jungle to find a tree for the mast. They were looking for a cupressus, which I finally understood to be a cypress, a tree that grows in a swamp. We found a swamp, and a tree that Javari thinks is tall enough to serve yet small enough to be workable. Tomorrow we will begin to cut it down. The only tool we have is my small steel hand axe, which I thought would be totally inadequate; however, Javari and Argon both believe it is a wonderful tool. We'll see.

I was surprised–and surprised Javari and Maranon–to be able to read the name of their boat. It's written on the bow twice. Once in Roman characters–Xander–and once in what the Cleric must have meant when he said runes. The boys, of course, know the name, and know that the characters and glyphs mean Xander, but they cannot read, any more than Argon can. No one in Japura's village wrote, and I saw no writing. This is the first time I've seen any on this world. The Roman characters were a surprise to me. I thought it was unusual for Argon, and then the two of us, to travel between worlds. I should have known better. The Builders Lodge rituals, German, Latin. . . and now Roman characters. . . they're all common between worlds. And humans are, too.

It was disturbing to me, at first, to know that Javari and Maranon–brothers–routinely shared boy magic. That is, they have sex with each other. I had not thought of it in the village, perhaps because I didn't know who was related to whom. They seem to think nothing of it–Javari and Maranon, that is–nor does Argon.

Another aspect of boy magic was revealed today–to me, that is. The others found it perfectly natural. Javari took the hand ax and climbed the tree he'd found yesterday. When he was nearly at the top, he began lopping off branches–with one stroke of the ax! It seemed effortless, and I said something to Argon. He seemed puzzled, and said, "Not if he uses boy magic–and you gave him a lot of that yesterday!" So, in addition to bathing and cleaning clothes, and making flint make more sparks, boy magic can be used to make an ax more effective. I do not want to display my ignorance in front of these boys, but I must talk more with Argon about this!

Repairs to the boat had taken longer than even Phillip had first thought. Despite the liberal application of boy magic, it took Javari several days to trim and shape the cypress tree to his satisfaction. After that, it took three days to convey the mast from the swamp to the edge of the jungle. The boys had to take time to forage for food, which consisted primarily of wild breadfruit and coconuts. Once they returned to the beach, Argon had some success fishing in the surf.

While Javari shaped the base of the new mast to fit into the socket from which they'd pulled the stub of the old mast, Maranon sewed the rents in the sail, using a huge needle and thick thread. They had been in a small locker built into the frame of the boat. The locker also held a knife, and some food. Seawater had spoiled the food, but the tools were in good condition.

Phillip's Journal

It has taken much longer to repair the boat than I thought. In large part, this seems to be because Javari and Maranon have no sense of urgency. I asked if they weren't in a hurry to get home lest their parents worry about them. I had a great deal of difficulty saying "in a hurry," because there seems to be no such term in their version of Latin! That was a clue. Perhaps their long lifetimes (and belief in reincarnation) make time seem different for them. I remember that Japura's people had no name for the months, and that Jurua had to think a while before he could tell me how many days were in a year.

"What can we do to help?" Phillip asked.

"Once the mast is put into place, and pegged to the socket," Javari replied, "we will have to refloat the boat. The moon will be full in three days, and the spring tide will be a day or two after that. The water may be high enough to reach here. But, it may not, and we don't want to have to wait another two tendays. A channel must be dug in the sand."

Javari's prediction was correct, and the channel was deep enough. The boys cheered when Xander once again rode the waves. For the first three days of their voyage, the wind blew from the north. Javari discovered after they'd launched the boat that the centerboard had been damaged: the boat could not tack close to the wind, and their progress was slow. Still, it was faster than walking had been. When the sun reached what Phillip still thought of as 3:00 o'clock in the afternoon, Javari turned the boat toward the shore.

"See the creek?" he asked, pointing. "We'll find fresh water, and perhaps some breadfruit trees."

Phillip nodded. "And the tide. . . it is low, now, but tomorrow morning, when we are ready to leave, it will be high?"

Javari nodded.

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